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The Americans Recap Season 5, Episode 9, "IHOP"

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The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 9, “IHOP”

Jeffrey Neira/FX

The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 9, “IHOP”

Diehard fans of The Americans, particularly those who’ve learned to stop worrying about this fifth season’s increasingly unclear endgame and love its tapestry of emotion-rich character moments, may have cried “Uncle!” not even halfway through “IHOP.” The episode feels less like a continuation of this season’s efforts up to this point than a tangent—a revisiting of loose ends from past seasons. Throughout, there’s a distinct impression that old ghosts are about to be put to rest, but less certain is if anything revealed here will dovetail at any point in the future with Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth’s (Keri Russell) present-day sleuthing. Worse, the episode engages with all that’s unresolved in everyone’s lives almost solely at the level of plot.

The Americans Recap Season 5, Episode 7, "The Committee on Human Rights"

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The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 7, “The Committee on Human Rights”

Eric Liebowitz/FX

The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 7, “The Committee on Human Rights”

Directed by Matthew Rhys, this week’s episode of The Americans, “The Committee on Human Rights,” begins exactly where “Crossbreed” left off. But let me begin at the end, specifically with that haunting image of Gabriel (Frank Langella) and Philip (Rhys) seated across from one another inside the former’s apartment. Throughout this evocatively staged sequence that serves as a tribute to Gabriel’s work throughout the years in trying to keep Philip and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) well informed and grounded, my eye kept gravitating to a patch of white unpainted wall near Gabriel’s head. And my mind went to Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse, a film in which people leave behind splotchy black stains—redolent of the blast shadows of Hiroshima victims—on walls when they die, or simply go missing. That blackness is a symbol of all that’s inexplicable about our lives, just as the swath of unpainted wall here represents the one thing that Gabriel doesn’t come clean about throughout a profound unloading of his conscience: that he kept Mischa away from Philip.

The Americans Recap Season 5, Episode 6, "Crossbreed"

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The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 6, “Crossbreed”

Patrick Harbron/FX

The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 6, “Crossbreed”

Can you imagine The Americans without Frank Langella’s Gabriel, who’s emerged this season as the shoulder angel to Margo Martindale’s devil-like Claudia? This much is clear: Levity will be in shorter supply. In the opening of this week’s episode, “Crossbreed,” Elizabeth (Keri Russell) informs Gabriel of her almost certain belief that Alexei Morozov is trying to feed the world’s hungry, to which he replies: “Just like Miss America.” Gabriel, in the moment, seems completely unperturbed by the news, concerned less with the next stage of Elizabeth’s sleuthing than he is with Philip’s (Matthew Rhys) mental well-being in the wake of the lab director’s death. Gabriel may make room here and there for a good joke, but like the series itself for the last few episodes, he’s obviously burdened by the emotional collateral damage caused by spywork. “The same as me, it’s upsetting,” Elizabeth tells her handler after he asks her about Philip, and by the end of this finely detailed episode, she arrives at a place where those words come to actually feel true.

The Americans Recap Season 5, Episode 5, “Lotus 1-2-3”

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The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 5, “Lotus 1-2-3”

Eric Liebowitz/FX

The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 5, “Lotus 1-2-3”

In my “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” recap, I refrained from describing one important yuk that played out in the Jennings’ kitchen that receives a very pointed rejoinder in “Lotus 1-2-3,” tonight’s episode of The Americans. Last week, upon sensing that Henry (Keidrich Sellati) was getting sassy with her, Elizabeth (Keri Russell) admonished him: “Don’t be smart, Henry.” To which a frazzled Henry blurted out: “I’m not!” This week, in a meeting with Henry’s math teacher (Don Guillory), Elizabeth and Philip (Matthew Rhys) learn that their son is so good at math that his school is considering placing him in Algebra II. The parents’ joy is the son’s sadness in a subsequent scene, which very casually brings to the fore how Elizabeth and Philip’s grooming of Paige (Holly Taylor) into a next-generation spy has unconsciously done a number on Henry, a wallflower of his parents’ creation who deflects the praise heaped on him by retreating into the world of his video game.

The Americans Recap Season 5, Episode 4, “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”

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The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 4, “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”

Patrick Harbron/FX

The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 4, “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”

Funny isn’t something that The Americans often does, and “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” is unique in the canon of the series for the sterling self-reflexivity of its sense of humor. The episode opens with Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) receiving an update from their supervisor, Gabriel (Frank Langella), about what their sleuthing in the Oklahoma science lab’s rolodex uncovered. After being assigned two new targets who are, coincidentally, both single, husband and wife exchange looks, no doubt sensing the potential long game they’ll have to play. It’s clear that neither Philip nor Elizabeth care to bring another Martha or Gregory into their lives, but above all else, they have a lot on their plates right now, and as Elizabeth goes down the list of all their—and in turn the show’s—outstanding commitments, she sounds like she’s trying to get out of brunch plans with someone she disconnected from previously, and with good reason.

The Americans Recap Season 5, Episode 3, "The Midges"

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The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 3, “The Midges”

Patrick Harbron/FX

The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 3, “The Midges”

Last week, I doubted the sincerity with which Philip (Matthew Rhys) reacted to Gabriel contemplating the possibility of the United States government tampering with the Soviet Union’s food supply. Though I still think the overall scene was doing much work for the audience’s benefit, Philip’s seeming incredulousness was instantly reoriented for me by the look he gives Alexei (Alexander Sokovikov) in the opening scene of this week’s episode of The Americans, “The Midges.” The Morozovs and the family of spies pretending to be their friends are bowling when Alexei, as is his wont, begins to rail against the oppressiveness of the life he lived in Russia. It is, of course, in Philip and Elizabeth’s (Keri Russell) best interests to feign sympathy for whatever Alexei tells them, but the expression on Philip’s face is unmistakably sincere, very much rooted in the horror of remembering that which he can’t forget.

The Americans Recap Season 5, Episode 2, "Pests"

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The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 2, “Pests”

Patrick Harbron/FX

The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 2, “Pests”

“Relax your shoulders, and follow through,” says Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) to her daughter, Paige (Holly Taylor), in tonight’s episode of The Americans, as they start their latest self-defense training session. The scene begins and ends with the metronomic sound of Paige’s fists taking turns smacking—not too hard but also not too soft—a duct-taped throw pillow. That sound, like the girl’s movement, is a canny corollary to Elizabeth’s methods as a spy, the perfection with which she must thread needles, and how they’re inextricably bound to her methods as a mother. Yes, Paige is frustrated by her parents not wanting her to date Matthew (Danny Flaherty), but when she agrees to continue their training session, one grasps Paige’s respect for her mother, for the way she broaches the subject of sex so frankly—which is to say, by pretending that it’s something that can actually occur.

The Americans Recap Season 5, Episode 1, "Amber Waves"

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The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 1, “Amber Waves”

Patrick Harbron/FX

The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 1, “Amber Waves”

The season-five premiere of The Americans is an insant reminder that the series is an edifice brilliantly constructed of contrasts. “Amber Waves” begins with the setting up of the pieces of Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings’s (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) latest spy game, as a young cohort, Tuan (Ivan Mok), pretending to be their adopted son ingratiates himself with a Russian-born teen, Pasha Morozov (Zack Gafin), at school. Blaring on the soundtrack is Devo’s “That’s Good,” anthemically attesting to the ease with which Tuan exploits his own difference to bait Pasha: “Everybody wants a good thing/Everybody ain’t it true that/Everybody’s looking for the same thing.”

The Americans Recap Season 4, Episode 13, "Persona Non Grata"

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The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 13, “Persona Non Grata”

Ali Paige Goldstein/Lionsgate Television/AMC

The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 13, “Persona Non Grata”

On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the sinner’s fate is sealed. To be blotted out of the Book of Life, in scripture’s cruel parlance, is to be culled from the ranks of the righteous, and it’s this eternal exile to which Leonard Cohen turns in his 1974 track “Who by Fire.” The spare, tragic ballad, inspired by Jewish tradition, but attuned to fears of a more modern sort, forms the hardened heart of The Americans’s plaintive season finale, rising on the soundtrack as Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) face an expulsion of their own. “Persona Non Grata,” in which Gabriel (Frank Langella) urges his agents to flee the country, forces these unwelcome guests in Cold War America to confront the question that defines the immigrant experience: At what point is the place from whence we came no longer the place we call “home”?

The Americans Recap Season 4, Episode 12, "A Roy Rogers in Franconia"

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The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 12, “A Roy Rogers in Franconia”

Patrick Harbron/FX

The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 12, “A Roy Rogers in Franconia”

Our response to fear is instinctive, automatic, a secretion of hormones that sets in motion the cascade we call “fight or flight.” “It’s not logical, it’s emotional,” as Paige (Holly Taylor) says of soap operas, bypassing thought to work on the strings of the heart and the sinews of the stomach. In tonight’s episode of The Americans, “A Roy Rogers in Franconia,” the sources of fear are specific and conditional, ranging from an immediate threat (an attempted mugging) to a speculative one (a Lhasa outbreak on the Eastern seaboard), but fear itself is the common thread, the experience each character shares.